It’s Thursday morning right now (February 8) and I just finished teaching my class for the day. The main reason that I’m taking the time to type out a message right now is that I’m planning on heading to Ouahigouya this weekend which is the city where I spent my first 3 months here in Burkina. There, I should be able to get on the Internet and put up a new post. Unfortunately, the Internet rarely ever works at the city near my village so that’s my main excuse for why there hasn’t been a post in soooo long. As was the case with my last post, there’s a lot I want to write about so I’ll probably just keeping going until the battery dies on the laptop. The next paragraph is actually clipped from a post I wrote at the beginning of November. I never got a chance to post it, but I figured I’d at least include the part that I had written about Ramadan here.
Ok, the first thing I want to talk about is the end of Ramadan celebration in my village which was the 24th of October. People thought that it was going to be the 23rd, but here in village they really do go by the moon so on the night of the 22nd as the sun was setting I was standing in my courtyard with my 'family' searching for the moon in the sky and it was nowhere to be seen – another day of fasting. The next night however, the new moon was out so the end of Ramadan celebration would be the next day. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect of the next day, but it did end up bringing a few surprises. The next morning, Alou (the head of my courtyard) asked me if I wanted to go see the prayers. This seemed interesting so of course I said yes. We ended up walking about a kilometer outside of the village where everybody gathered in a large field. There were perhaps a few hundred men sitting on mats in rows and some women and children watching from the outside. Alou sat me down on a mat in the middle and then went somewhere else and found a place for himself. (I think he didn’t stay with me because he had people move so that I could squeeze in on a mat under the shade of a tree.) Anyhow, shortly after that the person next to me asks me if I know the prayer. I say no and don’t think much of it. A few minutes later is when I realize that I’m in the middle of everyone that’s praying and sure enough the prayers start and I’m doing my best to follow along. I can only imagine what it must have looked like with the one white, non-Muslim person right in the middle of everyone trying to follow along. This probably went on for 30 or so minutes and then finished up. I was a little relieved once it was finished and I caught up with Alou and we started walking back to the village. However, we weren’t done yet. Once we got to village, we went to one of the mosques and started praying all over again. Once that finished, my next ‘cultural experience’ occurred. Over here, it’s pretty customary for men to hold hands or have their arms around each other as they walk. (but of course homosexuality doesn’t exist, or at least you wouldn’t want to admit it if you were. Although that’s probably a topic for another time.) So the next thing I know, Alou grabs my hand as we’re walking. Granted, I knew that that would happen at some point when I was over here and I also know that it’s just what they do, but there’s still a little bit of a shock when another guy grabs your hand and you’re walking holding hands. So next we walked hand in hand to the chief’s house. In Baraboule, the chief is also the mayor which I don’t think is usual. The chief being the traditional leader and the mayor being an elected government official. At the chief’s house about 15 or 20 of us went inside while the rest of the people stayed outside. There were 4 seats – one for the chief and I was given one of the other 3. Here we did the prayers one more time. Someone would say the prayer inside the house and then someone in the doorway would repeat it to everyone outside. After this 3rd time of going through the prayers, we were done and headed home. Once home we had a big lunch for the holiday which consisted of rice (which is very rare) with a sauce made out of meat and vegetables. I actually got 3 pieces of meat – a piece of chicken, a piece of goat, and a round organ thing which I’m not sure what it was or which it was from. Ironically, that same night was also the first night where I went to a place in Baraboule which just opened recently where I can get cold drinks including beer. (The refrigerator runs on propane.) So the same day that I prayed with everyone for the end of Ramadan was also the first day that I had a beer in village.
Ok, so I’m back to typing in the present now. A couple of asides regarding that last paragraph. That beer I had is actually the only beer that I’ve had to drink here in my village. Any beer drinking that I’ve done has always taken place somewhere else. Also on the same note as the hand holding experience, but much more recent. The other week I was in Djibo (the city that is closest to my village – about 30k) and I went to a place that had dancing with a couple of other volunteers. So here, it seems more common for guys to dance with guys and girls to dance with girls. Anyhow, you can probably see where this is going. As I was sitting, chatting with the other volunteers – a guy came up to me, grabbed my hand, and lead me out to the dance floor. I’m pretty sure that was another first – being taken out to the dance floor by a guy. (Off the top of my head, I don’t even remember many times where a girl has dragged me out to the dance floor.) So I lasted out there for a song or two before I returned to the laughing of the other 2 volunteers at the table.
A little bit of what I’ve been up to since my last post. Right now, I’m in the middle of my second semester of teaching. There are 3 semesters per school year and this one goes until about the middle of March. It’s hard to believe that I’m in the middle of my second semester here and I’m only here to teach for 6 semesters in total over the 2 years. I think I expected time to pass slowly here before I came, but it’s been feeling very much the opposite. The first semester went by fairly smoothly – my main issue is the same as it’s been since I’ve arrived here – feeling comfortable enough with the languages so that I can interact and communicate with people at the level I want to. (I’ll probably write a little more about how things are going with the languages a little later in this post.) I had a good Thanksgiving which I spent in my village. I taught as usual in the morning and then a couple of the other volunteers who live nearby came to my site for a Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t exactly your traditional Thanksgiving dinner – we had 3 Indian dishes for entrees (Kadhi Pakora, Navratan Kuma, and Palak Paneer) as well as banana cream pudding and chocolate mousse for dessert. The Indian dishes were all prepackaged food sent from home that just needed to be dropped in boiling water and heated up. It was a good meal and a nice change from what I’m used to eating here. After the first semester ended (December 20th), I had about a 2 and a half week break till the next semester started (January 8th). During this time, I had my first IST (In-Service Training). During your time as a volunteer, there are 2 training sessions that take place during your service – the first after your first 3 or 4 months at site and the other after your first year. The Peace Corps put myself and the other 15 volunteers in my group up at a hotel in Ouaga (the capital). We spent 4 days there discussing our first few months at site and having various training sessions on teaching, medical, safety and security, and language (for those that wanted it). It was definitely good to get to see and catch up with everyone who I had spent my first 3 months in the country with. I hadn’t seen most of them since we swore in as volunteers in August and left for our sites. It was also good just to spend a few days at a nice hotel with a pool, electricity, shower, toilet, and really good food. Anyhow, the IST ended on a Friday and that next Monday I was back at my site in the classroom beginning the second semester. I think right now we’re in the fifth week of the second semester and everything’s been pretty good so far this semester. This past week has been a little busy as I gave the first tests for the semester in both of my classes. So a lot of my time this past week was spent correcting the tests as I wanted to get them finished and returned to the students before I head out this weekend.
A couple of things about the school that people have asked about. The students do all wear uniforms. It’s basically just a tan shirt with tan pants for the boys and tan skirts for the girls. I don’t know how strictly it’s enforced, but I think sometimes the surveillant (similar to a vice-principal) will send someone home if they’re not wearing the uniform. As you can probably imagine, some of the uniforms are a little beat up. I actually asked other volunteers who teach about the uniform thing and I guess in a lot of other villages it’s not enforced at all. I think it’s ironic that it’s enforced here since this is probably one of the smaller villages that has a CEG (junior high school). When I enter the classroom, all of the students stand until they’re told to sit. Also, if I see a student while I’m walking around the village – they’ll usually come up, fold their arms and do a little bow, and say either ‘Bonjour Monsieur’ or ‘Bonsoir Monsieur’. I think that covers the questions I’ve been asked about school, please let me know if there are others.
I know I mentioned in my last post that my village has water issues and it’s actually a little worse than I thought it was going to be. I thought that during the hot season, people would have to start to go to other villages to get water. As it turns out, people started going to other villages for water at the end of January and the hot season doesn’t start until March! There’s still water here, but it’s getting scarcer and scarcer so sometimes it’s easier for people to go elsewhere for water. The huge pond that was here when I first arrived in Baraboule is almost dried up and will probably disappear in the next week or so. I think it’s amazing that there’s a village of this size in a place that runs out of water every year. As I said in my last post, it’s not that they don’t have wells or pumps – they just all dry up. Anyhow, as I’ve mentioned before so that no one’s concerned – I always have plenty of water. I never even get it myself – people in my courtyard always bring it for me.
Talking about the water situation leads naturally into another topic – the weather. If you want to visit, but are concerned about the heat than December and January are definitely the months to come and visit. I think the part of the country that I’m living in gets the highest temperatures in the hot season and the coldest temperatures in the cold season. In the weeks before December, there was a mini-hot season with the temperatures getting up near 110 degrees most days. However, after that things cooled down dramatically. I think during the months of December and January it probably wouldn’t get much higher than 90 during the days and would probably drop down to the low 60s at night. I actually was be able to cover myself with a blanket at night for a few weeks and during my first class in the morning I would usually wear a sweatshirt until it warmed up a little bit. (Although it’s interesting how you adjust to the temperature. I’d normally keep my sweatshirt on until it was at least about 75 degrees.) The only problem during these months is that there’s a lot of wind so the air is extremely dusty to the point that it’s actually hazy when you look in the distance because of all the sand in the air. If I put a book down and picked it up later in the day, I’d actually have to blow a layer of dust off of it after only a few hours. Next up is the season that I’ve been dreading – the hot season when I believe the temperatures get up into the 120s. This lasts from March until the first rains which occur in June or possibly May at the absolute earliest. (The last time there’s been any precipitation here was I think sometime in October.) Anyhow, one of the things I’m hoping to do this weekend is buy something similar to a cot for sleeping outside since it’s pretty much impossible to sleep inside when it gets that hot out. I’ll definitely miss sleeping inside on my bed, covered by a blanket. Also, I purchased a thermometer last time I was in the capital so I should be able to give some Burkina weather reports in future posts.
Ok, just had a minor interruption to eat lunch. Today was one of my favorites – beans with rice – so it was a welcome interruption. As far as food is concerned, there has been one really good change for me that happened at the beginning of this semester. At the beginning of this semester, the kitchen at the school opened and began serving food for the students. (If a student wants, they can pay to have lunch made for them at school.) I’m not sure why it wasn’t open during the first semester. The selection pretty much rotates between beans, spaghetti, and rice – all of which are pretty much luxury items as far as village food is concerned. Well, it so happens that one of the two wives in my courtyard is the one who prepares the food everyday. So now I get to eat whatever the students have for lunch rather than ‘to’, which is what I usually eat at every lunch or dinner. Not that I don’t like ‘to’, but its nice to have something a little different rather than the same thing for every meal. It’s actually probably good that I didn’t have that variety at first because now I appreciate what I’m getting now so much more. Of course, if someone told me a few months ago I would be excited about having a rotation of beans, spaghetti, and rice for my meals – I probably would have laughed. Anyhow, as I think I mentioned in my last post – I’m just lucky in the sense that I have pretty much every meal provided to me. This definitely isn’t the case with all of the volunteers. (Of course, it could also be said that most other volunteers probably would rather prepare their own food.) One more thing since we’re on the topic of food. I do cook a little from time to time just to have something different and I actually even occasionally bake. This past week I made some pretty good banana oatmeal bread and before that I made apple cinnamon oatmeal bread. (The ‘oven’ I use to bake is basically just a pot with a cover that I put on top of my propane stove.) It’s amazing sometimes what I can make considering what I have to work with.
Before I forget, I did want to mention how things have been going with the languages. My French is still improving and I work on it most days that I’m in village. It’s definitely still not at a level where I can feel comfortable expressing myself even though I use it to teach pretty much everyday. Sometimes I feel that I’m not going to feel comfortable speaking the languages until my two years here is up. I also work a good amount on one of the local languages (Fulfulde). I’ve picked up a little bit which allows me to interact a lot more with the people in my courtyard and everyone in my village and the various other villages that I visit that don’t speak French. I can only say basic stuff like hello (it’s probably not right to call ‘hello’ here basic stuff since all of the greetings are typically much more extended than we’re used to back home), where I’m going, what I want – just enough to be able to communicate on a very basic level. As far as the other 2 languages are concerned (Moore and Keronfe), I’ve changed my attitude a little as far as they’re concerned. Before I was a little overwhelmed and figured I’d just focus on French and Fulfulde. Now I’m trying to pick up as much as I can of those 2 also since I figure that I’m going to pick some up no matter what just by hearing them all the time. That was something that I definitely didn’t expect before I got here. I expected there to be French and a local language spoken, but not 3 different local languages! One ironic twist with the local languages is that the word for ‘yes’ in one of the languages is the word for ‘no’ in the other. And yes, both of those languages are spoken in my courtyard – better make sure you know what language your talking…
One thing that I want to mention that I think is kinda funny are the names that I answer to. In no specific order, I’ll typically answer to Bryan, Ibrahim, Boureima, Boina, Tuubaaku, and Nasara. Bryan is probably what I’m called the least. Usually if I hear this it’s one of the other teachers at the school or one of the other volunteers. Ibrahim and Boureima are both takes off of my name that people usually call me in my village. In my village it’s usually Ibrahim and in other villages it’s usually Boureima. Boina is the family name of the family I live with so I hear that a lot too. Tuubaaku and Nasara are both words for ‘white person’ in a couple of the local languages. Both of those I’ll also usually respond to. What I normal won’t respond to is being called ‘le blanc’ which is obviously ‘the white’ in French. For some reason, I don’t mind being called ‘white person’ in the local languages, but in French it just sounds a little odd. Anyhow, I wanted to put that out there so that anyone who comes and visits won’t think that I’ve developed a severe multiple personality disorder.
I’m going to stop here for now as the battery is getting low and I need to start getting ready to go. I have a 30k bike ride tonight into Djibo and then tomorrow morning I’m going to try and catch a bus to Ouahigouya for the weekend. (If you’re reading this, then I most likely successfully made the trip out there. If you’re not reading this, then you should be concerned about my welfare.) As always, I hope everyone’s doing good back home and that everyone’s New Year is off to a good start! And I can’t say thanks enough if you’ve sent a letter, package, called, emailed, or texted me sometime in the last few months. It’s always good to be reminded that people are still thinking of you back home.
(The picture above is of the sun setting over a mosque in my village. I took it a few weeks ago as I was walking home from school. Also, I added a disclaimer to the bottom of the blog to make sure that everyone realizes that I'm not speaking for the Peace Corps or the US government since I'm pretty sure some of you were under that impression.)